The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance, which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before travelling to Saudi Arabia. You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you wish to undertake.
Irish citizens should note that the Irish government does not provide funds for emergency medical repatriation or for repatriation of remains.
For entry requirements for Saudi Arabia, please contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
It is advisable to take a number of photocopies of your passport with you. Foreigners are required to carry their residency card (iqama) or their passport with them at all times. The Saudi authorities have the right to check identification and this can occur regularly due to the large number of security checkpoints both in the cities and on the roads between cities.
SAFETY & SECURITY
Citizens are advised to register with the Embassy in Riyadh during their stay.
Some US Embassies in the region have been instructed to close until 10 August. However the Embassy of Ireland in Riyadh remains open.
Irish citizens in Saudi Arabia are advised to exercise caution and avoid all demonstrations and public gatherings.
There is a general threat from terrorism. Attacks cannot be ruled out and could be indiscriminate, including western targets and crowded places frequented by expatriates. You should take all necessary steps to protect your safety and should make sure that you have confidence in your individual security arrangements.
The Saudi authorities continue to actively pursue terrorist cells operating in the Kingdom. On 26 August 2012, Saudi security forces carried out a successful operation to disrupt a terrorist cell planning to carry out attacks in Riyadh; links to another cell in Jeddah were also uncovered. In December 2012, the Saudi authorities arrested members of a terrorist cell who were linked to planned attacks in Saudi Arabia and other states.
The Saudi authorities convicted 765 people between 18 December 2009 and 6 December 2010, for involvement in terrorist activity.
Irish citizens in Saudi Arabia are reminded of the importance of maintaining a high level of personal security, are advised to keep a reasonably low profile and to be especially vigilant in places popular with foreign nationals such as hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. Citizens are urged to ensure the safety of their vehicles at all times.
In view of a continuing threat from terrorism, Irish citizens should exercise caution, including when traveling outside of the main cities. On 4 August 2010, the US Government warned that terrorists may be planning to attack Westerners working and living in Al Qasim, Saudi Arabia. Aviation interests and oil infrastructure also remain possible terrorist targets.
There is ongoing localized unrest in the Qatif area of the Eastern Province and Al Hasa resulting in at least fifteen people killed and others injured since October 2011. The Ministry of Interior confirmed on 23 November 2011 that a number of security checkpoints in the vicinity of Qatif were fired upon and that four civilians were killed and six people wounded, including two from the security forces. In addition, there have been reports that at least two people were killed and several others injured in clashes between protesters and government security forces in the Qatif area in February and March 2012.
Saudi Arabian military forces have been engaged in intermittent clashes with Yemeni rebels along the Saudi-Yemeni border. While fighting in the region died down following a ceasefire agreement between the Government of Yemen and the rebels, the risk of renewed fighting remains high. Given that there is a risk of further clashes, we advise travelers to exercise great care in all areas close to the Saudi-Yemeni border.
Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive and some are subject to jurisdictional disputes. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected, and there have been occasional arrests. In addition, piracy in the southern Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden is increasing in frequency.
The overall crime rate is low in Saudi Arabia and is not usually an issue for travelers. Some petty crime does occur, however, and normal precautions should be taken.
Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. For male drivers, driving in Saudi Arabia can be difficult, particularly since road signs may be exclusively in Arabic script.
Driving standards in Saudi Arabia are poor and the annual death toll on Saudi roads is extremely high. Care should be taken when travelling by car and seat belts should be worn at all times.
Given the relatively low cost, most visitors will use taxis or chauffeur-driven cars. Female travelers should only travel in pre-booked taxis known to be safe and should normally avoid hailing a taxi in the street.
Most normal rules of the road apply.
LOCAL LAWS & CUSTOMS
Consumption of Alcohol
The importation and use of alcohol is forbidden. Possession of alcohol may result in imprisonment and corporal punishment.
There are strong penalties for possession of or dealing in illegal drugs, including in some cases the death penalty.
Businesspeople involved in commercial disputes with a Saudi company or individual may be prevented from leaving the country until the dispute is resolved.
Proselytizing for religions other than Islam may result in imprisonment and/or deportation.
The import and use of pork products and pornographic material is forbidden and can lead to imprisonment.
Homosexual behaviour is illegal in Saudi Arabia.
It should be noted, on marriage to a Saudi national that under the country’s customs the family has strong power over the individual, therefore if a woman wants her right of movement guaranteed, she must insist on a premarital settlement, stipulating this right. Such an agreement is binding, and can be used in court to settle a possible dispute.
In public, women should wear an Abaya, a full-length black over-garment. It is also advisable to have a head scarf although it is not, strictly speaking, required. Men are also expected to dress modestly in full length trousers and shirts with sleeves, even if short.
Natural Disasters and Climate
In recent years there have been recurring heavy rains between November and February in Jeddah and surrounding areas. This flooding has resulted in a number of fatalities and severe damage to property. During this period you are advised to regularly check local weather forecasts and local media reporting, and to take appropriate precautions.
Additional Country Information
Healthcare facilities in major cities are of a very high standard. However, healthcare facilities in minor towns or small cities are adequate for routine procedures only.
There have been 40 cases of novel coronavirus reported worldwide (17 May 2013), including 20 deaths. Cases are associated with travel in the Arabian Peninsula and Jordan.. The WHO advises no travel or trade restrictions in relation to novel coronaviruses. However, Irish citizens travelling to the Arabian Peninsula and neighbouring countries should be aware of the presence of novel coronavirus in this geographical area and of the small risk of infection. Travellers should follow standard good hygiene practice including hand washing with soap and water following contact with animals. Further information can be found on the Health Protection Surveillance Centre website (www.hpsc.ie).
Irish citizens travelling to Saudi Arabia are advised to register with the Irish Embassy in Riyadh. Contact details for all Irish Missions (including Honorary Consuls) in Saudi Arabia are available here.